Prepare your child ahead of time
Help your child understand what to expect and how to respond at a sleepover. Julie Liberman, M.A., CCC-SLP, works with children on the autism spectrum. “Preparation is key,” Liberman says. “Resources such as social stories, written stories that detail the event beforehand, are great for reducing anxiety and helping children know what to expect.” Children with special needs may not pick up on or understand social cues or common situations like sleepovers. A social story about sleepovers, such as this blogger’s example, helps kids understand simple aspects of a sleepover, such as the comforting fact that you’ll be back in the morning.
Work with parents who understand special needs
In the best case scenario, your child has made friends with other kids with similar special needs. Try befriending other moms at therapy groups and waiting rooms if your child is currently in treatment. In addition to finding great playmates for your children, you may find yourself meeting friends who really get you. For that first sleepover, allowing your child to stay the night with a family with experience with special needs takes some of the pressure and nervousness out of what should be a fun situation. Families who have experience won’t bat an eye at some of the everyday challenges you and your child face. If your child doesn't spend the first sleepover with a playmate, try a sleepover at a close family member's home.
Let everyone know it’s OK if your child wants to bail
Any child, regardless of special needs, may want to bail on a slumber party. This is a perfectly normal response to sleeping somewhere new and being around another family. Whether your child has anxieties or not, anticipate this being a potential issue. Make sure the parents of your child’s friend understand that it’s all right to call for you to pick your child up at any time. You don’t want to unintentionally create a situation where your child feels forced to stay somewhere she feels anxious or unsafe. If your child decides to come home, it isn’t a failure. There are plenty of opportunities for sleepovers in the future.
Send the other parents a FAQ about your child
The key to sharing crucial information about your child’s special needs is to avoid embarrassing your child. To keep your child from feeling embarrassed, get with the parents in person or send some emails prior to the sleepover. Don’t worry about over sharing. Other parents would rather have too much information than not enough in the unlikely event of a meltdown or emergency. Create a basic “frequently asked questions” sheet including quirks, medical needs and allergies. Include ways your child feels comforted at bedtime. Make sure your contact information is there and let the parents know that it’s OK to call or text you at any time of night.
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